India is one of the world’s largest markets for books and digital content, and traditionally Indian publishing houses have been maintaining a good business with the millions of avid readers in the country.
In recent years, with the advent of digital books and online retailers like Amazon and Flipkart, readers in India have been moving towards purchasing their books online. Making the online book purchase option attractive are the cheaper online prices, poorly stocked brick-and-mortar stores, and convenience of accessing and purchasing a variety of books from the comfort of one’s home.
While the other factors cannot be controlled by traditional publishers, they have taken issue at the significantly lower prices offered by the online retailers. Amazon and Flipkart are able to offer anywhere between 10-40 percent discounts on book prices compared to traditional bookstores. Publishers and booksellers have complained vigorously that these deep discounts are hurting their business badly, as they cannot match these prices offered by online retailers. Publishers are now claiming that Amazon and Flipkart are monopolizing the Indian book market, and are considering taking legal action.
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This response from Indian publishing houses is perhaps a tad dramatic and unreasonable. The book business depends first and foremost on the readers, and should be designed to benefit the readers. Millions of readers are choosing to purchase their books online as they find this a more attractive option, and this trend is not likely to change in coming years. Traditional publishers may complain about this all they want, but they cannot slow or reverse the online retail boom.
If Indian publishing houses want to stay in the competition and avoid being run over by Amazon and Flipkart, then they need to be more aware of the changing needs of the modern Indian readers. They should be ready to adapt their business models to suit the book buyers.
It is clear that digital books are here to stay, and traditional publishing houses should get on board with the fact that Indian readers are increasingly choosing to buy both their print books and e-books online. To get readers to purchase books from them, and to compete successfully with Amazon and Flipkart, publishers can and should open their own online bookstores.
This model has already been adopted by traditional publishers in other countries, who realize that tapping into the online retail business is the best way to stay competitive in the market, rather than complaining about price margins over online retailers like Amazon. By having both print versions for brick-and-mortar stores, and e-books for their own brand online bookstores, traditional publishers have better chances of maintaining their business.
The huge discounts provided by Amazon and Flipkart are possible due to the logistics involved with online retail and selling e-books (no labour, printing, warehousing, packaging or delivery costs). By setting up their own brand online bookstores, publishers might also be able to offer deep discounts on books, though perhaps not as massive as those offered by these established online retailers. In any case, this would be the best way to tackle the competition, instead of complaining to the Indian courts about ‘bad business practices’. Giving attractive discounts to customers can hardly be considered a bad practice, especially since the readers benefit tremendously from this, and are likely to become regular book buyers.
In fact, it is this writer’s opinion that the advent of online retail and digital books has improved the book sales in India and added millions of readers and book buyers, who would otherwise hesitate to purchase new books and opt for the local library instead. By having access to millions of inexpensive books and e-books that can be purchased with the click of a button, readers are more open to spending money on new books, and buying lots of books.
Another way for traditional publishers to stay competitive is to make the book purchases at brick-and-mortar stores very attractive for readers by adding many value added services, package deals, discounts and seasonal offers. In any case, traditional Indian publishers need to keep up with the times, and consider options to make the book purchasing process attractive and easy for the readers, instead of worrying about Amazon and Flipkart’s business practices.